Thursday, May 26, 2016

Top 11 things to See & Do in Spain

1.Run with the bulls
Realistically, this is one of the most epic things I've ever done, and well worth running no matter who you are.  The festival of the running usually takes place in early July, and the atmosphere makes the entire event completely worthwhile.  When I went, my friend and I arrived at around 2 am in Pamplona, where we found the biggest party I've ever seen.  The entire city was partying, and you add an extra 50,000 people and you get quite the party.  I don't think I've ever seen that much trash in a city in my life, and the authorities somehow managed to clean it all up in a matter of hours before the running began.

There are lots of guides you can read before running, but my advice is make sure to get your spot at the beginning of the street.  My friend and I thought we were golden because we staked our claim at 4, but we were pushed out twice because we were too high and had to run back around to the front and walk back to the top. The second time everything was blocked off, and we literally managed to slip through the last open fence just before another guard locked it off.  Another piece of advice is don't run on the first day, unless you really enjoy having no personal space, and really being scared that someone will trip you.

The running is rather simple.  Run til the bulls get too close and then jump off to the side and let them pass.  And once they pass run after them to get into the arena before it closes.
The before party

The first time before we were pushed out.

2.Put on a hood at Semana Santa
If you're Catholic, this holiday in Spain is no joke.  The holy week leading up to Easter is one of the greatest times to visit Spain, many cities participate in the tradition, although Andalusia usually has more glamorous celebrations compared to solemn ones in Castile and Leon.  The tradition is to take the different floats of Christ's last week and parade them through the town.

These are typically brotherhoods that carry the icons wearing a hood called a capirote.  The tradition began during the time of Counter Reformation in Europe and is a sight to see today.

3.Burn something at Las Fallas in Valencia
Another amazing and unique Spanish festival.  This festival is one of the strangest you'll ever see.  The Spaniards work, creating huge wax floats all year long and then after a few days of parade, on March 19th, they burn all the floats.  It's both odd and strangely beautiful and should be on any travelers bucket list in Spain.

4.Party on a yacht in Ibiza
This should go without saying why you would want to visit Ibiza, one of the greatest party centrals on planet earth.  

5.Learn to whistle at a bull fight
Bull fights have come under a lot of pressure recently from animal rights activists, but here I'll say, fortunately, they are still going strong.  When I went, I didn't quite know what to expect.  I had wanted to go, but I hadn't made up my mind on whether I thought it was good or not.  I came out glad I had went and with an attitude of respect towards the fights.  The issue of the fights is not the slaughter of the bulls, because the bulls are going to be slaughtered for meat one way or another, but in the methods used to slaughter them.  Anti-bull fight activists will say that the way they are killed in the ring is barbaric, but those who are for bull fighting argue back that the creation of this breed of super bull, or "bravos," leads to longer, healthier lives for the bravos rather than other commercially raised cattle that are usually force fed for a year and half before being killed.

But there is also something downright emotional about a bull fight.  It is symbolic of man's own dance with death.  The more the bull fights, the longer he lives, the more the crowd cheers, the more breaks he gets, the more times he has to injure the matador, but also the more tired he gets.  I didn't really understand what was going on until a bull hit the side of the arena and broke its back in the first round.  A matador sprinted out and quickly killed it, it's time had come.

You'll notice I said you need to learn how to whistle, and this took me some time to understand.  Many Europeans whistle instead of boo like in the US, and whistling during a bull fight is confusing.  At first, I thought they were whistling at the bulls for performing poorly, but then I realized that it was at the matadors.  If there was a sloppy matador, who caused pain or just did his job poorly, the crowd would go wild.  You really learn to respect the good matadors, those who can showcase the strength and power of the bull, the ones who take it to the end of its life and then kill it quickly.  I felt like it gave me a new perception on the value of life, but then again, maybe that's just me.

Whatever the case, go and decide for yourself.  You will need to plan beforehand, however, how to see one as they are held at eclectic times and in random cities.  You may have to plan a detour to a city just to see a bull fight, but it is worth it.

6.Embark on a pilgrimage to Cordoba or Santiago de Compostela
Both of these historic religious sites have been sources of pilgrimages for hundreds of years.  In Santiago's case, you can still hike the road from France to the Cathedral on a long route with verified stopping points.  In Cordoba's case, the pilgrimages have stopped since it has now become a Catholic cathedral instead of a mosque, but it is still one of the great sites in all of Spain.  You will be hard pressed to find a better place to visit than one of these two sites.

7.Eat Jamon or Paella
You really can't go wrong if you eat jamon for every meal in Spain.  Tapas are great as well, and in the Basque region you can really branch out to some excellent top tier foods.  Oh, and of course, when on the beach, eat some paella.

8.Go to a Real Madrid or Barcelona match
Here I am a little biased.  You may not think this is worth the top listing, but if you want to see some high quality football first hand, this is the place to do it.  You'll need to plan ahead if you want to be able to get seats at a reasonable price to a good game, but even the bad ones are worth the money as these two teams just exemplify great football.

9.Joust the windmills of la Mancha
La Mancha is one of the funnest regions to go to in all of Spain.  It is very reasonably priced and compared to the south, it has almost no tourists.  This is also where you will find one of my favorite cities in all of Europe - Toledo.

10.Meditate in the mountain monastery of Montserrat
One of the original strongholds of the Christians after being pushed out of the plains of Spain, this small monastery is ripe with history and beauty.  They also have some of the best white chocolate monks could probably ever produce, and I definitely recommend.  Be careful of going when it is rainy, however, as this can really ruin any pictures you want.  Sometimes you have to make due, and it is still worth the trip.  You can access this by traveling by train to the gondola that will take you to the top.  The trip usually takes about an hour and a half both ways depending on when you arrive by train.

11.Visit the Moorish alcazars of the south and their gardens
When most people think of this, they usually think of Granada, which has often ranked as the top tourist destination in the world.  Granada is not alone though in having extravagant Moorish palaces and lavish gardens.  (And when I say lavish gardens, I mean it.  These are petty forests with only bushes like at Versailles or Peterhof.)  Seville, Cordoba, and a few other cities in the south have beautiful palaces and great gardens alongside of Granada.  That being said, however, Granada should still top the list of places to go.
Cordoba's castle gardens

If you have any suggestions or would like to contribute click here to send me an email.  If you would like to sponsor my trip somewhere to showcase your business or to work with me please send me an email as well.

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